Using My Coding Books Effectively

A lot of people ask me how to use my books to learn a coding technique quickly.  I recently wrote two articles for New Relic that help explain the techniques for choosing a technical book and the best way to get precisely the book you want. These articles are important to you, the reader, because I want to be sure that you’ll always like the books you purchase, no matter who wrote them. More importantly, these articles help you get a good start with my coding books because you start with a book that contains something you really do need.

Of course, there is more to the process than simply getting the right book. When you already have some experience with the language and techniques for using it, you can simply look up the appropriate example in the book and use it as a learning aid. However, the vast majority of the people asking this question have absolutely no experience with the language or the techniques for using it. Some people have never written an application or worked with code at all. In this case, there really aren’t any shortcuts. Learning something really does mean spending the time to take the small steps required to obtain the skills required. Someday, there may be a technology that will simply pour the knowledge into your head, but that technology doesn’t exist today.

Even reading a book cover-to-cover won’t help you succeed. My own personal experiences tell me that I need to use multiple strategies to ensure I actually understand a new programming technique and I’ve been doing this for a long time (well over 30 years). Just reading my books won’t make you a coder, you must work harder than that. Here is a quick overview of some techniques that I use when I need to discover a new way of working with code or to learn an entirely new technology (the articles will provide you with more detail):

  • Read the text carefully.
  • Work through the examples in the book.
  • Download the code examples and run them in the IDE.
  • Write the code examples by hand and execute them.
  • Work through the examples line-by-line using the debugger (see Debugging as An Educational Tool).
  • Talk to the author of the book about specific examples.
  • Modify the examples to obtain different effects or to expand them in specific ways.
  • Use the coding technique in an existing application.
  • Talk to other developers about the coding technique.
  • Research different versions of the coding technique online.
  • View a video of someone using the technique to perform specific tasks.

There are other methods you can use to work with my books, but this list represents the most common techniques I use. Yes, it’s a relatively long list and they all require some amount of effort on my part to perform. It isn’t possible to learn a new technique without putting in the time required to learn it. In a day of instant gratification, knowledge still requires time to obtain. The wisdom to use the knowledge appropriately, takes even longer. I truly wish there were an easier way to help you get the knowledge needed, but there simply isn’t.

Of course, I’m always here to help you with my books. When you have a book-specific question, I want to hear about it because I want you to have the best possible experience using my books. In addition, unless you tell me that something isn’t working for you, I’ll never know and I won’t be able to discuss solutions for the issue as part of blog post or e-mail resolution.

What methods do you use to make the knowledge you obtain from books work better? The question of how people learn takes up a considerable part of my time, so this is an important question for my future books and making them better. Let me know your thoughts about the question at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. The same e-mail address also works for your book-specific questions.

 

A Proliferation of Start Menus

I’ve received a number of emails about my Controlling Windows 8 Support Costs post some time ago. That post highlighted a concern that many managers have about the training cost for Windows 8 and brought up the point that the new menu system would slow adoption in the enterprise. I also talked about an article I wrote on ways to reduce training costs entitled, “8 Ways to Reduce User Training Costs for Windows 8“. The email has been interesting because there don’t seem to be many people who are viewing Windows 8 from a middle ground—they either like it quite a bit or really hate everything about it.

I have noted a few things about Windows 8 since its release. All of the advertising I see on television is directed toward the consumer market and you never see the old desktop. The commercials are glitzy and focus on interesting things you can do with Windows 8, but most of these things have nothing to do with business. One commercial shows a cute little girl creating art and then sharing it with her dad later. It’s interesting, but hardly a business use. I have to wonder whether the Microsoft marketing machine has forgotten about business and has decided instead to focus on the consumer market.

So far, the number of people who tell me they can survive without the Start menu is extremely small compared to those who wonder what Microsoft was thinking. The thing is, most of my readers are business users. Obviously, a lot of other people have noticed that business users aren’t happy about the lack of a Start menu because I’m also seeing articles such as the one in InfoWorld entitled, “9 Windows Start menus for Windows 8.” What I’m wondering is how Microsoft researched the whole issue of removing the Start menu.

One of the issues for me is that I need to know how to support my latest book, Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference. When I wrote the book, I saw a definite consumer-oriented slant in Windows 8, so I’ve included some material for that need in the book. However, I had originally felt that there would be a lot of business users as well. How are you seeing Windows 8? Has it become much more of a consumer product? Will businesses wait for Windows 9 before upgrading? Will these addons make Windows 8 an option for businesses? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Controlling Windows 8 Support Costs

Windows 8 presents a new interface and new methods of working with the computer. Microsoft obviously wants to try to create a new image as a mobile device vendor by putting a tablet interface on a traditional desktop operating system. Whether the strategy will work or not is a significant topic of discussion. Some pundits, such as Wood Leonard, consider the new Metro interface as the worst mistake that Microsoft has ever made. Other authors, like Ben Woods, are a bit more positive. You can find opinions between these two extremes over the entire Internet.

Change is always incredibly uncomfortable. I still remember the ruckus caused by the, now positively viewed, changes in Windows 95. Of course, Microsoft has had a few turkeys to its credit too, such as Vista. My experience has been that time shows whether a significant change will work or not. In this case, Microsoft really does have its work cut out for it. A less aggressive stance might have worked better, but the die is cast and we’ll soon see the results in terms of sales.

Windows 8 isn’t all bad news and you certainly shouldn’t approach the product from that perspective. While writing Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference, I was also able to come up with some interesting product features and ways to make Windows 8 a little less of a shock to users. Some of these techniques, such as using a Start menu substitute, appear in my book. In fact, I discuss one of those alternatives in detail, ViStart. My conclusion is that it’s possible to reduce your support costs through careful management of the Windows 8 setup. You may also find that new security features actually reduce support costs by making it less likely that users will corrupt their systems.

Whether you like Windows 8 or not, you’re eventually going to have to support it unless you cut off all user access to other devices. Everything I’ve been reading as of late tells me that enterprises would just love to keep users from bringing in their own devices, but it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon. With that in mind, I wrote an article entitled, “8 Ways to Reduce User Training Costs for Windows 8” that will help reduce the pain for administrators. I’d like to get your feedback on the article at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. More importantly, tell me your ideas for making the Windows 8 transition a little easier. If I receive enough good ideas, I’ll revisit this topic later.